College students must approach summer courses differently. Failure to do so may result in an unpleasant surprise, possibly with a failing grade.

Note: This article was originally publihed by June 21, 2010.

College students take summer courses for a variety of reasons, one of which is assuming these shorter duration courses will be easier. However, many are not up to the challenge. The lesson they learn is that college summer courses are, in some ways, more difficult than the same courses taken during a full 16-week semester.

Bad Reasons for College Students to Take Summer Courses

Some students take summer courses because they think the subject matter will be easier. This is particularly true for university students who take courses at community colleges. For example, many “math-phobic” students assume they can more easily fulfill a university mathematics requirement at a “junior college.” In reality, they will take the same course. Were this not true, these courses would not be accepted by universities. (Akademos, Inc.)

Another reason students may take a summer course is the misconception that it will take less of their time than it would during a fall or spring semester . This is a very bad assumption. During a 16-week semester, many colleges and universities advise their students to study no less than two hours for each hour in class. For example, the “Time Scheduling” advice given Virginia Tech students includes an expectation of, on average, two hours of preparation time for each hour in class.

I did it!

Cornell University extends that a bit. In a document entitled “A Simple, Effective Time Management System,” Cornell students are advised to spend two to three hours studying for each classroom hour. What some students do not realize is that those numbers double for an 8-week summer term, which means the expected study time goes from 6 hours a week to 12 hours a week for a 3 credit hour class. The study commitment can be much higher. An accelerated 4 credit hour course run over 4 weeks would demand up to 48 hours of study time.

Good Reasons for College Students to Take Summer Courses

Students take summer courses to spread out their course load. By taking 15 credit hours during both the fall and spring terms, a student earns 120 hours in four years which is the requirement for most bachelor’s degrees. However, by taking 12 credit hours each semester and 6 credit hours over the summer a student will accumulate the same 30 hours each school year with a schedule that is less intense. That will translate to fewer study hours per week or higher grades with the same amount of study time.

Another valid reason for taking summer courses has to do with the time it takes to graduate. It is much more difficult to earn a bachelor’s degree in four years than it was in the past. However, summer course work helps many students achieve that goal. It allows those who might not otherwise graduate in four years to do so.

College students who enroll in a summer course thinking it will be easier are usually in for a rude awakening. The shorter duration means coursework is more intense, and students who dislike the subject find it even more difficult to put in the required study time. However, a well planned schedule that includes summer coursework can make it easier for students to achieve good grades and help them graduate on time.


“A Simple, Effective Time Management System.” The Center for Learning and Teaching, Cornell University. (Accessed June 23, 2010).

“Time Scheduling.” Cook Counseling Center, Virginia Tech Division of Student Affairs. (Accessed June 23, 2010).

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